TITLES CAN BE MISLEADING, and I don't just mean whether an Earl takes precedence over a Marquis - the kind of nuance with which I feel sure TAC readers wrestle on a daily basis. For example, you will have searched in vain for any trace of the north-western corner of the British mainland in a recent Channel 4 series called Cape Wrath. Similarly, there's a new indie film due out in the US soon called Dakota Skye which turns out to have nothing to do with either American state, north or south, or the Hebridean island. It's somebody's name, a tired old excuse which has had hill fans grumbling ever since Ben-Hur turned out not to be a hitherto unremarked Corbett somewhere north of Loch Mullardoch.
Clearly, one cannot be too careful. And doubly so in the case of the new Scottish film that was due in your multiplexes from the beginning of October (though you will have been able to see even it earlier if you live in the Highlands), which has not one but two titles. In fact, beware of calling it a Scottish film, since everyone involved is trumpeting that it is a Gaelic film, the first feature film ever, it appears, in which most of the dialogue is in that ancient language and all of the action is in that part of Scotland known as the Gaeltachd - broadly speaking the west and north-west Highland and Islands.
Its English language title is The Inaccessible Pinnacle. Given the film's provenance, surely we will finally get to Skye this time? But its Gaelic title is Seachd, pronounced, roughly, "Shackt", which is Gaelic for the number seven. Not exactly a literal translation, then. But neither title is exactly wrong. You do get to the jaggy bit above Sgurr Dearg - twice in fact. And the seven part is to do with the fact that this is a story about storytelling, something which is big in Gaelic culture. Seven is a mystical number and there are supposed to be seven stories wound together here, most of them told by a grandfather figure, who claims to be a thousand years old, to his grandson, who has been orphaned by a climbing accident on said jaggy bit above Sgurr Dearg.
If you are just coming for the mountain, be sure you take your seat in good time. The accident which sets the plot in motion is the opening sequence, shot in authentic-looking Skye clag where a guide loses his client in a gear malfunction on the In Pinn. It's a bit like the beginning of Cliffhanger, the Sly Stallone blockbuster, only with Scottish weather. If you want to see the Cuillin in the sunshine, you have to stay to the very end where young Aonghas (played by a nine-year-old from North Uist named Peter Morrison, or PÓdruig Moireasdan for those without subtitles) returns to the mountain as a man to exorcise the demons left by the tragedy. As a man he is still played by the boy as well as by a grown-up actor to symbolise his coming of age.
It's not quite as confusing as it sounds, and not half as confusing anyway as large tracts of the rest of the film which deliberately blur the edges between real life and the life of the stories told by the grandfather. These can involve anything from magical white horses which suddenly appear on the beach, to a stranded 16th-century Spanish nobleman (presumably one of those shipwrecked after the Armada) introducing the potato to Scotland and providing a cue for a laboured joke about fried food. Storytelling may be a time-honoured way of making sense of the world for Gaels, and each sequence within this film is lovingly and at times stylishly shot. But for anyone without that sensibility, the moment where young Angus turns on his overbearing grandfather and tells him (in English), "I hate your stupid stories and I hate Gaelic", may be the moment you find it hard to suppress a quiet "Go on, my son, you tell the dreary old bastard".
In between all this, however, there is a fair amount of spectacular photography of the Highlands. Apparently, Simon Miller, the director, and Ian Dodds, his director of photography, spent many days outwith the rest of the shoot just filming landscapes - and it was time well spent. One extraordinary sequence towards the end makes it look as if the Cuillin are on fire, as the light of the setting sun pours out of a sheltered corrie. You may require some patience, however, to appreciate the scenery among some of the other elements of the film.
TAC 72 Index